With Shaquille O’Neal signing with the Boston Celtics next season, his late-career pattern of transition continues. I have never been a huge fan of O’Neal’s, but have spent some time recently thinking about how this will affect his legacy. He is certainly not the first player to change teams in the twilight of his career chasing a ring, or in his case additional rings. O’Neal’s case does seem extreme as he is now joining his sixth NBA team, and has reportedly burned bridges in each of his previous stops. It’s difficult to remember another future or present Hall of Famer who may not have a single team interested in “claiming” him and his career. Bill Simmons discussed this in a column today, while guessing at some of O’Neal’s motivations entering this season. I decided to put some numbers together and look into it a little more.
I created a list of all current Hall of Famers and a few likely inductees who haven’t become eligible yet. (Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson.) I only counted Hall of Famers who were inducted for their playing careers (No Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan or Phil Jackson). I counted the number of franchises each player had spent time with. If a player was with a team and then returned to that team later in their career, it was counted as only one. Here is what I found:
- The average NBA Hall of Famer played with 2.61 franchises over the course of their career. This number is skewed by several players who played for a huge number of teams. The mode for my data set was 1, meaning most players spent their entire careers with only one team.
- 31.07% of players played for 1 team in their career.
- 25.24% of players played for 2 teams in their career.
- 21.36% of players played for 3 teams in their career.
- 9.71% of players played for 4 teams in their career.
- 4.85% of players played for 5 teams in their career.
- Totalling these up, we see that O’Neal will have played for more teams than 92.23% of current and likely future Hall of Famers.
- Only 7 other players besides O’Neal will have played for 6 or more teams over the course of their careers: Dikembe Mutombo – 6, Rick Barry – 6, Elvin Hayes – 6, Walt Bellamy – 6, Adrian Dantley – 7, Bob McAdoo – 8, Moses Malone – 9.
Although O’Neal is not alone in the number of jerseys he has worn, he’s in the extreme minority. I’m too young for any personal knowledge of the careers of many of these players, which may make O’Neal stand out to me even more. Of recent Hall of Fame inductees, and ones who I have actually seen play, none have played for as many teams as O’Neal and none have soured as many relationships along the way as he has. Perhaps this year will be a chance for him to turn things around, but it seems just as likely that this will continue to chip away at parts of O’Neal’s considerable legacy.